Sunday, May 31, 2020

Strictly for the Enjoyment of Our Readers

August 31, 1993, edition of the self-proclaimed "World's Only Reliable Newspaper"

Once upon a time, if a person wanted timely and accurate information, he or she would procure something called a newspaper.  Today, people have various, more convenient means of obtaining news but advances in technology aren't the only problems that afflict newspapers.  The public's 'confidence in newspapers' has waned over time.  If we look at 1994 (with the lowest 'Great deal/Quite a lot' confidence percentage of the 90s) and compare it to 2019, we see some telling figures.  In 1994, the combined 'Very little/None' confidence was 28%; the combined 'Great deal/Quite a lot' confidence was 29%.  In 2019, the combined 'Very little/None' confidence was 39% and the combined 'Great deal/Quite a lot' confidence was 23%.  If we interpret the 1994 difference as +1 (i.e., 29 – 28) and the 2019 difference as –16 (i.e., 23 – 39); we see a 17 'point' decline in confidence.

There are two conflicting components in the news media:  purpose and product.  Purpose is the journalistic goal of responsibly providing news for the benefit of society.  On the other hand, product is a combination of profit motive and intentional bias.  Previously, purpose outweighed product – at least in the public perception.  In our jaded era, where truth has become subjective, it seems that product has encroached upon purpose...

What?  What's that?  You don't read Thoul's Paradise for tedious social commentary?  You read it for tedious commentary on old school role-playing games?  Well, excuse me for attempting an erudite introduction to the next games we are to examine.

Anyway, the nineties represented the golden age of tabloid journalism, when UFO space aliens, Bigfoot, and Elvis commanded the headlines and people had enough common sense not to take such things seriously.  A disclaimer contemporaneous with the issue shown above indicates that the Weekly World News is “a journal of information, opinion, and entertainment... strictly for the enjoyment of our readers.”  Eventually, in the twenty-first century, their disclaimer would emphasize that most articles are fictitious and the “reader should suspend belief for the sake of enjoyment.”  I don't know how, but the Millennials must be responsible for the decline of the tabloids – Today's tabloids focus on celebrity gossip and weight loss programs.  (I'm not concerned with 'online' tabloids; if I don't see it in the check-out lane at the supermarket, it doesn't count.)

What?  Get to the games?  Fine...

1993's Pandemonium! has as its setting the Tabloid World where “everything you've ever read in the tabloids has either happened or is likely to happen...”  Of course, many people are “Mundanes” who discount tabloid phenomena.  Similarly, the setting of 1994's Tabloid! is “a neat world, just like ours, except – EVERYTHING YOU READ IS TRUE! ”  Yet “normal” people don't believe the truth of the tabloids.  Not surprisingly, there are many similarities between the two games.  In both games, player characters are reporters working for a tabloid.  Also in both games, the official title of the game master is Editor.  In Pandemonium! (or PANDEMONIUM as it refers to itself) the player characters are Enlightened (“any sentient entity that is able to perceive, believe in, and have some understanding of paranormal phenomena”) and are called Paranormal Investigators.

PANDEMONIUM uses the “E-Z Rules System,” but “optional Very Complicated Rules for anal retentive role-players” are provided.  The E-Z Rules do not allow for character creation; players must choose among the eleven provided “pre-generated, pre-destined, and ready-to-play Character Cards.”  For the reader's edification, these Paranormal Investigators are described below.

Each character has a Mundane Profession (“the occupation that the character practiced prior to becoming Enlightened and finding work as a Paranormal Investigator”), one or more Hobbies (“talents or avocations that can be practiced and developed in a person's spare time”), one or more Paranormal Talents (“'extra-mundane' (or just plain weird) abilities”), and a Phobia.  Also, each Paranormal Investigator has a Past Life.  The character can use the abilities of the Past Life by rolling on the Fate Table.  “If successful,” we learn, “the Past Life recollection lasts for just ten minutes, then fades from memory until the next time it is used...”  For example, a character with Houdini as a Past Life could “escape from any type of restraint, prison cell, or practically any dicey situation...”

Without further ado...

Rick Dante
Male, Italian-American, Age 22, 6', 175 lbs, brown hair, green eyes; acts cool, smokes too much, hangs out with strange people (mostly musicians), nocturnal by preference
Mundane Profession: R & B Musician (sax player, speaks musician's lingo; familiarity with most types of street drugs, seedy bars, and the dark underside of city night life)
Hobbies: Amateur Detective
Paranormal Talents: High Chemical Tolerance; Magic
Phobia: Hydrophobia
Past Lives: Bogey

Celia Brown
Female, African-American, Age 20, 5' 8", 130 lbs, brown hair & eyes; excellent physical condition, outgoing, friendly -- flexible and athletic, perceptive
Mundane Profession: Aerobics Instructor (teaches exercise techniques, knows how to treat sprains and bruises, terrific endurance, looks great in tights)
Hobbies: Judo
Paranormal Talents: Mind Reading; Psychic Assault
Phobia: Phasmophobia
Past Lives: Joan of Arc

Henry Yakamoto
Male, Japanese-American, Age 25, 5' 7", 150 lbs, black hair & brown eyes – thoughtful, studious, introspective -- as a result is sometimes thought of as a nerd
Mundane Profession: High School Physics Teacher (understands laws of physics as they apply to both the mundane and tabloid world universe -- ability to teach high school kids while retaining sanity)
Hobbies: Computers
Paranormal Talents: Psychokinesis; Cryptozoology
Phobia: Altophobia
Past Lives: Albert Einstein

Joseph Cloudwalker
Male, Native American, Age 21, 6' 3", 200 lbs, black hair, brown eyes, good physical condition, lean but strong, good balance -- quiet and softspoken, sometimes moody
Mundane Profession: Construction Worker (experienced welder and riveter, can operate heavy machinery (trucks, crane), has no fear of heights)
Hobbies: Bow Hunting
Paranormal Talents: Dowsing; Magic (Shamanism) [perhaps not the best descriptor]
Phobia: Belonophobia
Past Lives: Geronimo

Mike Washington
Male, African-American, Age 24, 6' 3", 240 lbs, well built, good athlete (former college football player until knee injury), self-assured but never cocky
Mundane Profession: Nightclub DJ & Rapper (streetwise, knows the rap club scene, speaks the language of the inner-city, knowledge of recording studios and sound gear)
Hobbies: Football (Linebacker)
Paranormal Talents: Sixth Sense; Clairaudience
Phobia: Claustrophobia
Past Lives: Joe Louis

Tracey Novak
Female, Polish-American, Age 23, 5' 10", 132 lbs, blonde hair, blue eyes, very attractive, great body, acts a bit dizzy but is quite intelligent, likes to party
Mundane Profession: Professional Model (knows how to use make-up and clothing to enhance looks, good at self-promotion, can hold same pose for hours, knowledge of fashion industry)
Hobbies: Acting
Paranormal Talents: Speak In Tongues; Faith Healing
Phobia: Triskadeccaphobia [sic]
Past Lives: Marilyn Monroe

Crawford White
Male, WASP, Age 28, 6', 180 lbs, blonde hair, blue eyes -- family was rich until stock market crash; very outgoing, well-mannered, a real socialite
Mundane Profession: Ski Instructor (seasonal job with the side benefit of meeting wealthy women; good skier, knowledge of ski resorts and posh nightclubs; speaks the language of the upper class)
Hobbies: Boating
Paranormal Talents: Retrocognition; Object Reading
Phobia: Ergophobia
Past Lives: JFK

Che LaVie
Female, French-American, Age 21, 5' 5", 110 lbs, black hair & brown eyes; alternative fashion sense (combination of Seattle grunge and N.Y. punk); emotional termperament [sic], strong-willed
Mundane Profession: Freelance Photographer (knowledge of most photographic techniques, film developing, shooting under less than ideal conditions; can candle temperamental models and subjects)
Hobbies: Ancient Egyptian Mythology
Paranormal Talents: Astral Assault; Spirit Photography
Phobia: Ophiophobia [sic]
Past Lives: Cleopatra

Ernesto Villa
Male, Mexican-American, Age 27, 5' 11", 195 lbs, brown hair & eyes, muscular build; macho temperament when angered, otherwise easy-going, speaks fluent Spanich [sic]
Mundane Profession: Cab Driver (able to drive fast and recklessly, specific knowledge of home town or city streets, able to work long hours without getting drowsy)
Hobbies: Boxing; Automatic Art
Paranormal Talents: Precognition
Phobia: Ballistophobia
Past Lives: Marco Polo

Judith Rosenberg
Female, German-American, Age 30, 5' 6", 125 lbs, wavy brown hair, brown eyes, 1960’s fashion sense; radical feminist, vegetarian, has Masters [sic] Degree in Women’s Studies
Mundane Profession: Health Food Store Nutrition Advisor (knowledge of harmful and/or weird food additives, vitamins, natural foods; can diagnose nutrition-related maladies and suggest remedies)
Hobbies: Kung Fu
Paranormal Talents: Read Auras; Palm Reading
Phobia: Pharmacophobia
Past Lives: Madame Blavatsky

Johnny King
Male, Serbian-American, Age 32, 5' 10", 195 lbs, black hair, brown eyes, about 20 lbs overweight, loves junk food & sci-fi movies, somewhat shy when not on stage
Mundane Profession: Elvis Impersonator (able to sing, speak, and act like Elvis; knowledge of the Elvis repertoire, shobiz lingo, and most of the least attractive nightclubs in Las Vegas and Atlantic City)
Hobbies: UFO Watcher
Paranormal Talents: Alien Empathy; Astral Assault
Phobia: Teratophobia
Past Lives: Nicola Tesla

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Super Powers and Skills in Enforcers

Art by Christine Mansfield

For a post about super powers, I wanted to present interior artwork from Enforcers that displayed the use of super powers.  Unfortunately, I used the only such artwork for the last post.  There's somebody falling off a skateboard (p. 64), two guys with weird ears building or repairing some device (p. 43), someone looking at a rabbit (p. 35), a ninja holding a rock (p. 52), but no other display of superpowers.  A review of Enforcers in White Wolf Magazine #11 (August 1988) is not appreciative of the artwork:  “The interior art will hopefully be replaced in a future third edition.”  Ouch.

One of the selling points of Enforcers is, “A complete magic system.”  Actually, the magic system in DC Heroes Role Playing Game does not seem incomplete in comparison.  For fifteen creation points an Enforcers character can acquire the 'Magic' power.  If so, no other power can be purchased and there is an upper limit for characteristics other than Intelligence and Comliness.  With Magic, a beginning character has six spells.  Each additional spell costs three creation points earned as experience.  Enforcers offers nineteen magic spells; some which are to be expected (such as 'Shield' and 'Scry') and others which are unusual.  For instance, the victim of the 'Deathmare' spell... instantly teleported through a dimensional gate where he will face his most hated and feared enemy in mortal combat – actually it is a magical construct with his personality and attributes.  The GM should roll 1d6 to determine how long the battle may last.  If the victim defeats his enemy, he will immediately reappear back into the real world.  If there is no victor before the spell runs out, the victim will also reappear.  Should his enemy win, the victim's body will reappear.
Otherwise, most of the powers can each be a spell.  Among the powers excluded from being used as spells, there are Cybernetic Replacement, Mutation, and Invulnerability.

The 'Animal Powers' super power (not usable as a spell) allows a characters to purchase statistics and powers at half cost.  Each animal type has a limited set of statistics and powers which can be purchased thus.  For example, the Arachnid set includes:  Strength, Agility/Dexterity, Spider Climb, Entanglement, Invulnerability.  Each creation point used must come from a weakness which can never be bought off with experience.

“Willpower is an optional ability score that starts at 0 when a character is created and can only be increased by the spending of creation points,” we read.  (Willpower is also not usable as a spell.)  This power acts as a back-up saving throw.  When a character fails a saving throw, the character can roll against his or her Willpower.  If successful, it is as though the original save was successful.  This costs an amount of energy equal to the result of the successful Willpower roll.

Invisibility has a creation point cost of five.  However, for seven points a character can have Non-Detection:
Characters using this power can't be detected by audio, visual or electronic means.  All but the strongest of magical means will also fail.  Danger sense and detective score will not discover someone using non-detection.  This form of invisibility shuts off after the user takes any hostile action.
The Energy Ground power allows characters to shunt 95% of energy “to ground.”  We learn, “This power on works on 'pure' energy forms –  e.g. electricity, lightning, non-magical force fields, power blast, and heat based sources.”  Also, “This power will not work against magic, light/laser. cold, or other non-energy attacks.”  I guess in the Enforcers universe, light isn't energy and lasers aren't associated with heat.

Energy Vampire “is more than just an offensive power: it is the ability to absorb life energy from others in order to restore your own!”  Like a traditional vampire, an energy vampire can turn into a bat and has no reflection in mirrors.  Additionally, an energy vampire takes only half-damage from non-metallic physical attacks (but “double damage from metal based attacks”).

Lycanthropic Immunity might as well be called Lycanthropy (or better yet Zoanthropy).  With this power, “characters are able to change shape from a normal human into a form that is part animal and part human.”  When in (quasi-)animal form, the character “is completely immune to HTH and projectile damage unless the damage is inflicted by a magic or silver weapon.”  However, “when an attack they are immune to reduces them below zero hit takes the body a few moments to repair itself to the point where it can function.”  Wait, why would a character lose any hit points if he or she is immune to a given attack.  At any rate, “Lead bullets may embed themselves in the character, but will cause no damage unless they are not removed by the character before returning to human form.”  I strongly suspect it may be possible someone other than the character could remove the bullets.  Lastly, “Please note that Lycanthropes MAY NOT be Energy Vampires!”

Regarding skills, “The player and the GM should reach an agreement on just what skills any given character may have.”  The normal number of skills a character may have is three; however, in special situations the GM can allow a beginning character to have up to five skills.  After character creation, more skills can be acquired via experience; however, “The maximum number of skills a character can have is 6.”  Enforcers describes 42 skills, but the list “is not exhaustive, and entirely new skills can be created if the player and GM agree on the descriptions.”  Skills in Enforcers are usually more encompassing than skills in other role-playing games.  For instance, the 'Automated Systems' skill allows familiarity “with the complex software and control systems necessary to do such things as spacecraft navigation, environmental control, and nuclear power plant operations.”  'Thief' provides “a 75% chance of accomplishing any activity related to stealing.”  Such activities include (but are not limited to):  Car Theft, Lock Picking, Wall Climbing, Pickpocketing, Bypassing Alarms, Spotting and Bypassing Surveillance Equipment, Fencing Stolen Merchandise, Pursuit, Evasion, as well as Breaking and Entering.

Art by Christine Mansfield

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Combat in Enforcers

Art by Christine Mansfield

In Enforcers, combat transpires in a series of fifteen second rounds.  A round consists of 75 'counts' lasting one-fifth of a second each.  A 'Combat Initiative Chart' (shown below) is used to record the characters' initiative scores in a given round.  Note that the footer gives “permission to photocopy or cut out only this chart from the book.”  No such permission is granted regarding the blank character sheets printed on the inner front and back covers.

Interestingly, according to Lawrence Schick's Heroic Worlds, 21st Century Games sold a “Delux Initiative Set” for Enforcers (“Plasticized initiative chart, reusable, and three-hole punched for insertion in a binder” – also included a grease pencil); this product is not listed on  Anyway...
A character’s initiative is calculated by rolling 1d10 and adding this number to the character’s ADX score.  If the character has the super power Heightened Reflexes [sic], this needs to be added as well.
Once a character’s initiative is determined, the number equal to the character’s initiative should be located and marked on the Initiative Chart with the character’s initials.
There is no power with the name Heightened Reflexes; presumably, the author meant Super Reflexes (each level of which adds 10 to initiative).
When combat begins, the GM will start in row 1, column 1 of the Initiative Chart and begin counting columns to the right.  When the end of one row is reached, the GM will start counting in row 2, column 1 and continue to the right…
Characters receive offensive actions in the column where their initiative score is plotted, in the row where their initiative score is plotted, and in all rows higher.  For example, a character with an initiative score of 35 receives an offensive action in column 11 of rows 1, 2, and 3.
This process is reminiscent of the combat system in Villains & Vigilantes (although V&V does not employ a chart):  turns last fifteen seconds, initiative is determined by adding 1d10 to Agility, and a character is entitled to an action for every fifteen 'phases' of his or her initiative.

Let’s see how Enforcers initiative plays out.  We have two characters:  Sloth-Man (with an ADX of 4) and Captain Hotfoot (with an ADX of 30 and three levels of Super Reflexes).  The result of the initiative roll for both characters is 5.  For this round of combat, Sloth-Man has an initiative score of 9; the score for Captain Hotfoot is 65.  Captain Hotfoot has five offensive actions this round but Sloth-Man has only one.

Combat begins.  We start at row 1, column 1 and begin counting to the right:  15 ...14 ...13 ...12 ...11 ...10 ...9 – Sloth-Man may now commit an offensive action 0.8 seconds before Captain Hotfoot is permitted to do the same this round.  [Insert sad trombone]

Well, the authors stated that Enforcers is “the easiest, fastest, most flexible super-power role-playing game.”  They made no claim regarding logic or common sense.

The amount of damage that a character inflicts in hand-to-hand combat is based on carrying capacity.  “Table 5 presents the meleé damage table,” we read, “look up your character's carrying capacity and this will give you the character's meleé DAM#.”  This seems reasonable.  Given below is the “formula [the authors] used to calculate the values on the meleé damage table.”

CC DAM#X = (DAM#X × 100) + (CC DAM#X – 1) + (DAM#X³ × LOG{DAM#X} × 0.7)

Apparently, the authors put a great deal of thought into this ...or did they?  Here is the first portion of Table 5:

Carrying capacity (in pounds) is determined thus:  (STR/10)³ x W* x 25.  A person weighing 180 lbs. and possessing a Strength of 11 (i.e., average) has a carrying capacity of 133 lbs.  According to the table, that means the person would have a DAM# of 2.

In Enforcers, there is no table describing meleé weapons.  Instead, “Striking weapons do damage based on their weight.”  Specifically, we are told, “Find the object's weight on [Table 5], and the DAM# given is amount of damage done by the object.”  A crow bar weighs about five pounds, so the DAM# would be 1.  This means a normal, unarmed person inflicts twice the amount of damage that a person wielding a crow bar would inflict.  [Insert sad trombone]  At least, “Objects with sharp edges used as slashing weapons will do triple this amount.”

A critical hit results when an attack roll is equal to or less than 10% of the attack's adjusted basic chance to hit (ABCTH).  Should the ABCTH exceed one hundred, “the maximum legal percentage” is ten percent.  To determine hit location, we are advised to “please roll 2d6 and consult the proper column in Table 11.”

Um, what column would that be?  When Table 11 is reprinted in the back of the book, we see that – from left to right – the columns are:  front, back, side, and below.  Each critical hit has a severity from one to six; determined by rolling 1d6.  This suggests six levels of severity; however, such is not the case.  There are actually three levels of severity, each having a separate table:  light (severity 1 - 3), medium (severity 4 - 5), and extreme (severity 6).  For the neck location, the effect of light severity is 2 × normal damage and “target loses next action.”  The effect of medium severity is 4 × normal damage and “15% paralyzed otherwise lose next action.”  Finally, the effect of extreme severity is 6 × normal damage, “20% dead, 50% paralyzed, [otherwise] target is stunned for rest of round.”

For an attack, rolling in excess of the 'fumble factor' means the character has fumbled.  Fumble factor equals 89 + (ABCTH/10), but a “roll of 00 is always a fumble regardless of the character's fumble factor.”  There are three fumble tables, each requiring a roll of 1d10:  Hand-To-Hand, Ranged Attack, and Missile Weapon.  A roll of '2' on the hand-to-hand table means, “Strained arm, –40% to hit for rest of round.”  A roll of '1' on the ranged attack table indicates, “Distracted, save vs. Intelligence on d% or lose next offensive action.”  A roll of '3' on the missile weapon table indicates, “Missile arc to [sic] high ...Hits ceiling for normal damage and may hit a random target on the ground.”